I just finished my final conference of the year, and I have to tell you, I am exhausted. I apologize for the radio silence the last few weeks but the world caught up with me. That and for once I took a real vacation to my parent’s house. That time away from my plugged in, constant driving world was a wonderful form of professional development for me, and a rare one at that. I did a whole lot of nothing, except for appreciating family, wilderness, and peace, something that all too often we forget to do for ourselves.
Then, I hopped right back on the road 24 hours later and did two conferences back to back and my full time job in between. I LOVE speaking and conferences; I really do. I believe that for your professional development dollars, there is no better investment. One might ask two questions though; 1. What is so great about a conference other than the sessions, and 2. If I don’t have conference budget money, what can I do? So here we go- tips and tricks from your guru friend.
1. Conferences are not all about the sessions. True, those of us that speak would like you to believe that our educational offerings are the end all be all, but in reality, it just isn’t true. I often learn more outside of the sessions than I do in them. Here’s how: I am constantly networking. There is no better teacher than hundreds or even thousands of people who do the same thing you do for a living. The shared bonds there are priceless and when you need a second or third opinion, what a great resource!
2. TALK to the vendors!! Most of them are great industry resources and have been around a while; they have a perspective that some of us cannot grasp as we are so deeply entrenched in the day to day.
3. Spend time at the bar. I’m not encouraging you to drink, well kind of, but ginger ale is perfectly acceptable here. Most of the leaders like to unwind at the end-or in the middle!- of a day with a good glass of wine or single malt scotch! If you catch someone there, the conversations can be very beneficial to your educational path and your career trajectory; some of the best hiring deals are done at the bar!
4. Not a drinker? Sign up for a dinner group or make one of your own! It doesn’t take much effort to have a great tie with colleagues and learn more about them. Staying in your conference hotel room will do you no good! You might say, well I want to see X city- great! Add a day for that- you are there to get development, and the best way is from your peers and industry leaders.
5. And if you have extra time and are in an area with lots of non profits, set up lunches or visits to places and people you would like to visit, both formally or informally. Use every minute of your time away from the office to develop your skills and learn from others; and be thrilled with the fact that your organization is providing you with a wonderful opportunity to be present and engaged in a conference! Don’t forget to write follow up emails and thank you notes to those you met and spent time with, it will leave a lasting impression!
NO budget money to travel to a conference? Here are some great ideas for those of you that are landlocked for the time being.
1. Apply for a scholarship- most conferences I attend have scholarship programs and are always looking for wonderful applicants- go for it
2. Follow the conference you want to attend on Twitter- it is amazing how much you can learn from us tweeps as we live tweet or blog sessions, it is like you are there- almost!! You can ask questions, follow along, and even reach out to speakers live!
3. When you find a speaker you like and see slides that interest you from one of their speeches, most can be found on slideshare.net or their websites… reach out to them, explaining you weren’t able to be there in person but could they talk you through it, I’ve never said no to anyone and have learned a great deal from these one on one sessions- don’t forget to send them a thank you note afterward!
4. Webinars are a cost effective solution to your inability to travel. They are often hosted by the same speakers and have wonderful content, some organizations even include them in their annual membership fee.
5. Volunteer locally to help organize a regional workshop, it doesn’t cost you anything but time and you usually can attract top speakers to your location and it is a great selling point to your leadership that they might want to let you attend the national version of that conference once they see the value of the sessions and networking that day!
6. READ! There are great blogs, ahem… lol newspapers such as the Chronicle of Philanthropy, websites and other sources for you to feel engaged in the larger community while still at your desk!
7. Participate! Use social media and other forms of sharing like listservs to have your burning questions answered- Every major group has a linked in page and facebook page too, in addition, most have twitter feeds. There is a lot to be discussed and learned out there and each of these are FREE!!
I hope this helps you understand that professional development takes many shapes forms and sizes and is all about what you make of it- I would love to hear your thoughts on the most valuable professional development you take part in, and ones you would like to see in the future!